Scanlines

Marjoe

D: Howard Smith, Sarah Kernochan.
VHS Home Video
Vulcan Video, 609 W. 29th

In 1948, at the age of four, Marjoe Gortner was called to serve the Holy Spirit -- not that his parents gave him much of a choice in the matter. Preaching fire and brimstone from revival tent to revival tent, Marjoe not only made a name for himself as a child prodigy on the evangelical circuit, he also made his parents bucketsfull of cash. In 1972, at the age of 28, he invited in a film crew to expose the fraud of his ministry. And deft at the skills of manipulation, Gortner successfully used the film to propel himself from bible-thumping into an acting career. Since then, the former minister has appeared mostly in TV films and action quickies, but he also had a season's run as a regular on Falcon Crest and played (what else?) a preacher in Wild Bill (1995). Awarded an Oscar in 1972 for best documentary, Marjoe successfully captures on film the bizarre dichotomy between the devout in front of the pulpit and the corrupt behind it. -- Kayte VanScoy


The Tall Guy

D: Mel Smith; with Jeff Goldblum, Emma Thompson, Rowan Atkinson, Geraldine Jones, Anna Massey.
VHS Home Video
Vulcan Video, 609 W. 29th

The Tall Guy

It takes a while for this sincere, unheralded comedy to really get rolling, but once the chemistry between Goldblum and Thompson is allowed to take over, you easily forgive the film's slow plot development. Goldblum plays a wandering American actor in London known for his height and second-rate roles, the pinnacle of which is a lead as the Elephant Man in "Elephant," The Tall Guy's hilarious send-up of an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical. More than an unlucky actor, Goldblum is a chronic allergy sufferer who is terrified of needles, a phobia which brings him into contact with Thompson, a nurse whose ironic reserve is a perfect foil for Goldblum's tendency to make an absolute fool of himself. Scripted by Richard Curtis, who also penned Four Weddings and a Funeral, The Tall Guy is a treasure not only for its self-effacing interplay of American and English romantic mores, but also for its ability to draw us into the world of its protagonists' romance -- a skill that American romantic comedies, in their effort to put sex at the forefront, tend to neglect. -- Clay Smith


Diablo

CD-ROM for Windows (Macintosh coming soon)
Blizzard Entertainment

Diablo

Put on your best plate mail suit, slip on a magic ring, and prepare for a hotter than hell descent into the subterranean world of Diablo. Truly a world in and of itself, this role-playing phenomenon from the makers of Warcraft II has spawned a colossal Internet community. From as far away as Japan, they go online as warriors, sorcerers, and rogues in a never-ending quest to dethrone the lord of all evil, Diablo. But defeating this red-skinned monster is only part of what the experience is all about. With more than 1.6 million games logged into Diablo's website (http://www.battle.net), this combat zone has evolved into an electronic mecca for adventurers in search of exotic weapons, group battle, and the dirty froth of Diablo -- pkillers (characters who join games only to assassinate other players). Craftily designed, Diablo's point-and-click interface aims at putting you in the catbird seat just 10 minutes out of the box. And, unlike its predecessors, the Ultima series, Lands of Lore, and even Realms of Arcania, Diablo does not come dressed with a text-heavy manual, detailed map, or keyboard overlay. It does, however, swim through your free time like a behemoth filter-feeder. Once you plunge into the blood-soaked, graphics-laden dungeons of Diablo, you may never want to resurface. -- Marcel Meyer


Rasputin: Dark Servant of Destiny

D: Ulrich Edel; with Alan Rickman, Greta Scacchi, Ian McKellan.
VHS Home Video
Vulcan Video, 609 W. 29th

There is no lack of intrigue surrounding the last royal family of Russia, the Romanovs. Not only was theirs the first wall to tumble to the forces of socialism, but the family's brutal execution and the mystery of missing Romanov remains make theirs one of the most captivating royal histories in the world. The enigmatic figure of Rasputin, an unwashed, drunken peasant who rose up to become the royal family's spiritual guide, is portrayed here as the breaking point of tensions between the elevated Romanovs and the starving masses of the Russian people. This HBO production is as richly turned out as any cinema costume drama, proving that "made for TV" need not be a brand of inferiority. Alan Rickman as the hypnotic and arrogantly pious Rasputin is captivating indeed. The actor took home an Emmy for his performance, as did co-star Greta Scacchi. -- Kayte VanScoy


Blue Velvet

D: David Lynch; with Kyle MacLachlan, Isabella Rossellini, Dennis Hopper, Laura Dern.
VHS Home Video

When David Lynch returns to cinema with Lost Highway this week (after a five-year absence from film), he's going to have a lot to prove. With nothing much on his resumé since Twin Peaks and Wild at Heart (both in 1990), it's easy to forget why Lynch is heralded as an avant-garde genius. The reason, of course, is Blue Velvet, his widely acclaimed masterpiece about the loss of innocence in suburban Lumberton (theme song: "Logs! Logs! Logs!"), where MacLachlan, Rossellini, and Dern form a bizarre love triangle and are sucked into a web of deceit. The now-immortal missing ear sequence and Hopper's gas-sucking loony are only a few of the surreal touches that distinctively brand the film, from its opening shots of picket fences to the strains of Rossellini singing the titular aria. Whether or not Lynch is severely messed up is not in question. Whether or not you can figure out the intricacies and deep symbolism of his finest film may be, but either way, you should definitely give it a try. -- Christopher Null

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